In the wake of all the recent and horrible actions occurring in venues across the world, I had someone ask me what I am doing to teach my students how to be prepared for these situations. What am I doing to ensure their safety as well as the safety of the people attending events at venues under my supervision and when I am not there?
I could have told this person that we spend time talking about active shooters, running fire drills, working through emergency medical exercises and more. Which is true, we run these activities and have discussions every year. Each fall I sit with 30 students from age 18-22 to discuss and show them what to do in case this or that happens. However, just discussing and showing them isn’t enough.
We do fire drills, tornado drills, have active shooter discussions and explain everyone’s roles in these situations, but it’s not enough. Information like this is lost over time without continuous practice. Although these situations do occur, they are rare enough that the students may never directly experience them. We must build a foundation of response and continually reinforce it. Yes someone could just follow a checklist and mark things off, but these situations are dynamic and rarely ever the same. Plus in an emergency – who will have time to check off the list?
In addition to the drills, discussions and information we go through I also spend time trying to develop each person’s sense of self and work through how they might react in such a situation. I spend time teaching them to ask questions. Ask questions about the procedure I am explaining, and how to work through it if it happens. To develop scenarios where they work through their thought processes on what should be done. I teach them to ask questions of those around them: What is the event? How many people are we expecting? Who is our point person for the night? Do I know everyone that is working? Have they all had the same training as me? Do I remember what I’m supposed to do? Do I know where my resources are?
Next, I work toward having them become more aware of their surroundings. Do I see the people who are entering the room? Am I able to walk through the fire lane in the dark without tripping? Do I know what the weather is like outside? Do I know what other events are happening in the building? Have I put down my phone long enough to be aware of something unusual? Am I greeting people as they walk by, so I might remember whom I’ve seen that day?
Now that they are working towards being more aware and are asking the questions they need to ask of themselves and others are they acting on what they are seeing? Did the clutter get moved from fire lane? Did I notify security of a bag that looks out of place? Have I communicated with venue management to express my concerns about a room that is getting too full? They need to communicate what they see to help prevent escalating issues.
Finally, but no less significant they do need to know emergency plans. They need to know what to do in inclement weather. They need to know who the point person is for every event. They need to have experience so they can think straight and have the necessary tools to keep themselves and others safe. They need comprehend the process and potential outcomes for Run, Hide, Fight.
There will be no perfect answer on what should be done in each situation. But we must educate ourselves, know the options, ask questions, be aware of our surroundings, communicate our concerns and know the emergency plan.
Heather Holm has been working for the University of Wisconsin La Crosse for five years as the Event Support Coordinator. Her job requires her to be a jack-of-all-trades (Audio technician, venue manager, teacher, safety manager, supervisor, lighting designer and so much more). She loves live sound the most – and says “there is nothing like firing up the PA for the first time”.